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Nineteen year old Maggie spend a year in prison for her part in fire that cost the lives of 3 people and serious injured several more, including her half Brother Keith. Now she is out and has to face the world again, including Keith and all the other people she hurt. Keith is not coping well with his scars, emotional and physical, and even though he dosen't realise and appreciate it, it is the dedication and care of his Mother, Sara that keeps him going. When she disappears on the day that Maggie is released, his life turns on its heads and he finds he cannot cope. Reluctant to turn to his family because of the hurt and betrayal they have caused he tries to carry on best he can. Meanwhile, Maggie, his half Sister is trying to carry on best she can it a world that she has hurt badly, who cannot forgive and who have turned against her.
This is a follow on from the book 'Before the Storm' which details the account of the fire and how it came to be and the destruction it caused. Both books detail the pasts of the characters in the book and look back over their history which helps understand how things came to be in the present. I recommend you read both and in order because it really does create a big picture of the people involved and makes the story much more poignant. It is very well written and emotional and can compare to the way Jodi Picoult writes, so if you are a fan, you will like Diane Chamerlain too.
More than a year has passed since a fire ripped through a Topsail church hosting a youth party where three people were killed and many more were injured and the community is still trying to cope with the aftermath of the blaze. Maggie Lockwood was found guilty of pouring gasoline around the perimeter of the church which was accidentally ignited when another teenager lit a cigarette and is now to be released from prison, life behind bars was tough for this privileged teenager but will be even harder upon her release. Her half brother Keith was one of those injured in the fire and his mother has disappeared and so her family take him under their wing. Keith is, understandably, angry that he has grown up in a trailer while the sister who caused the fire has grown up with all the benefits of their late father's wealth. Maggie it seems always lands on her feet while he has had to struggle.
Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger arrives on Topsail and befriends both Keith and Maggie giving them both the friendship they crave but has this stranger got secrets of her own? Will the community ever allow Maggie to live a normal life again? Will Sara ever be found or will Keith have to learn to live without her? You will need to read the book to find out.
"Secrets She Left Behind" is the follow up novel to "Before The Storm" which explored the dynamics of the Lockwood family where Laurel has brought up her children Maggie and Andy alone after their father's death. Laurel struggled with postnatal depression and turned to alcohol after Maggie's birth leading to Andy suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. This is a family with skeletons in the closet and it turns out that things are not so picture perfect as they seemed with Keith's paternity being revealed in the first book.
"Secrets She Left Behind" follows on where the last book finishes and looks at how the family copes with secrets being revealed as well as the aftermath of the fire. The story will make a lot more sense if you have read the first book although at a push it would work as a stand alone story.
The story is told through many voices which seems to be a common way to write novels these days. The story is told both in the present time by Maggie, Keith and Andy and in the past by Sara, Keith's mother. This works well letting the reader gain a better insight into the characters and letting them develop their own voices.
The book explores many themes, one of those is that of forgiveness. Maggie has served her time for the crime she committed yet many in the community still hate her. At what point do we let criminals integrate back into society or should we make them suffer for life like their victims do? It was interesting looking at the American justice system with the forced therapy and sitting in on those therapy sessions, should we bring in a similar system here? It's always a good sign when a book makes you think about things after you have finished reading.
Diane Chamberlain has been compared to Jodi Picoult and there are some similarities in the writing styles and who the books are aimed at but overall Chamberlain is far more character driven and less sensational and more readable. I have read several of her books now and found this one was not as good as the rest as it was lacking a spark and was a bit bloated at over 500 pages long however it was still a fairly engaging read and readers who have read "Before The Storm" will enjoy it.